In 1963, NASA built a mighty telescope on the summit of one of the highest mountains in the Pyrenees. Its purpose? To map the surface of the moon, in preparation for the Apollo landings. Six years later, when Neil Armstrong was piloting the lunar module as it descended to the sea of tranquillity, it was these maps, compiled on a summit of a bleak French mountain a quarter of a million miles away, which enabled him to achieve a safe landing amid the boulders, and transmit those immortal words – ‘the Eagle has landed’.
And to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landings, in July 2019 we’re going to drive there.
All hail The Eagle Rally’s follow-up adventure – The Space Race. This 1,600 mile mission across France has it all. Stunning driving roads, cool car collections, wine tasting, cognac tours, epic history and even a bar inside a three-story steampunk robotic walking elephant. Because every road trip needs one of those, right?
The Space Race will be leaving The UK via Cherbourg, onboard a ferry bound for Cherbourg on Saturday 20th July. Once in France, our first break from the road will be at Mont St Michel, that improbable island-monastery which towers over the Brittany Coast. From there, it’s time to head south, with the choice of visiting either the Masion d l’automobile – a car collection which gets our vote purely for having a Lamborghini room, an F1 starting grid and a tavern – or the Machines of the Isle of Nantes, where the steampunk elephant lives, alongside other similarly daft creations.
After an encounter with a giant robo-elephant, you’ll probably be wanting a stiff drink. Fortunately, the next two stop offs on the drive will have you covered. Firstly, we’ll be stopping off in Cognac to tour the Hennessy distillery, before heading to Bordeaux for a full afternoon of chauffeured wine tasting. And then, we shall nurse our hangovers in the direction of one of Europe’s great driving experiences – the Route des Cols. This incredible snake of tarmac runs across the Pyrenees for hundreds of miles, and is to The Space Race what the Alpenstrasse is to The Eagle Rally – a glorious way in which to reach your destination. So what can you expect from this Route des Cols, exactly? Well, it’s a wonderfully scenic grand touring route which runs through the heart of the Pyrennes, crossing 34 separate high passes and averaging an altitude of 748m as it does. It’s purpose made for this sort of adventure and partway along it, at the summit of the 2,115m Col de Tourmalet, there is a mountain. The Pic du Midi – all 2,877 metres of it. And on the summit of this mighty peak, which we’ll be reaching by cable car, there is the observatory which helped Neil Armstrong land on the moon. Fortunately for us, there’s also a bar up there. The perfect place from which to watch the sun set as we chink our beers together to celebrate our drive there from England.
But the summit is only halfway, for we'll still have the return journey to complete. And for the first part of that, we’ll be continuing to enjoy our steeds as we carry on along the Route des Cols, before cutting up to Toulouse.
So, what is there to do in Toulouse? Well firstly, we’re planning to lay on a tour of the Airbus assembly plant, and secondly, there’s the Cite de l’Espace – a museum dedicated to all things space, which counts a giant Ariane 5 rocket and a Soyuz space capsule among its exhibits. Compelling.
From Toulouse, we’ll be taking the scenic route back north, passing through the postcard-rural regions of Tarn and Lot and taking in the Pass de Peyrol and the volcanoes of Auvergne, where not only will we have the chance to summit the most famous of these mountains – the Puy de Dome – but we’ll also be able to explore what’s left of France’s abandoned answer to the Nurburgring – the old Circuit du Charade. Then it’s on to Clarmont-Ferrand, where the Michelin Museum awaits our perusal.
From Clermont, we’ll be pushing north, but don’t think that means the repetition of the autoroute. No, we’ll be taking the best roads we can find as we head to the ferry port of Dieppe, and also continuing to take in the sights, with an overnight stop in the historic cathedral-city of Chartres pencilled in. And no, we didn’t choose it just because it’s pronounced ‘shat’.
So, there you have it. Wine. Cognac. Twisting mountain passes. Beers at sunset on the summit of the Pyrenees. Classic car collections, forgotten villages, space rockets and robo-elephants. Volcanic vistas, airliner assembly plants and UNESCO treasures. And most of all, the camaraderie, memories and friendships which only a trip like this can produce.
So, make your 2019 awesome. Come and be part of The Space Race and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landings in style, by raising a glass to Neil Armstrong next to a piece of Apollo history, as the sun sets across the Pyrenees.
Tempted? Here’s the nitty-gritty:
Dates: 20th to 28th July 2019 – leaving the UK from Portsmouth, and returning via Newhaven.
Distance – about 1,600 miles driving.
Cost - £1,475 for one car and two people sharing either a double or twin hotel room.
Cost includes -
The outbound and return ferries (Portsmouth – Cherbourg out, Dieppe – Newhaven back)
The cable car up and down Pic du Midi, and a beer on the summit
A fully chauffeur-driven afternoon of wine tasting in Bordeaux
A tour of the Cognac Distillery
The Michelin museum
The Airbus Assembly Plant
The Cite de l’espace
And either the Manoir de l’automobile or Les Machines de l’Ile de Nantes.
And all hotels (generally around 3 star) and breakfasts
So, there you have it, and as you can see, we’ve taken things to the next level with our second adventure. So don’t delay, book the best thing you’ll do in 2019 today, by emailing Ben@Pub2Pubadventures.com to reserve your place.
Links to attractions: